January 20 ~† Speaking Out New Rules: Polite Musings

"We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. Itís overrun with sheep and conformists." ~ Bill Maher

Bill Maher

Someone who consistently lets his voice be heard, comedian and writer William Maher, Jr. (1956-) was born on this day in New York City and grew up in New Jersey where politics were discussed at the dinner table.

"There's a difference between being correct and doing what's right," he said.

Maher graduated from Cornell University with an English degree, then hit the comedy circuit to improve his standup craft. He said, "The worst part of a comedian's career is that first year or two, trying to get on stage."

Maher appeared in B-movies and as regular guest on the Tonight Show before creating and hosting, Politically Incorrect (1993-2002), what he called a "cafe show" where panelists debated key issues. ABC cancelled the award-winning series when his passion-fueled comments following the 9/11 terrorist attack offended sponsors.

"We have the Bill of Rights," he once said. "What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities."

In 2003, Maher moved to HBO with Real Time with Bill Maher, a no-holds bar hour of political conversations, mixing the views of liberals and conservatives with riveting style. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, no slouch as a satirist, hailed the show as his "home away from home."

Agree with him or not, the irreverent Maher has become a lightning rod for controversy while boldly remaining true to his core and an advocate for free speech. "I don't think anybody does our kind of show with the kind of raw honesty we do," he told the Washington Post in August 2004.

And always reaching for the zinger punch line. "A lot of people hate me," he said. "It takes a toll on the nervous system. And that's not something I enjoy."

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